As Strictly Come Dancing returns, why do old favourite shows bring us such comfort?
After a delay due to the period of mourning, the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing is back on our screens.
It’s going to be a bumper weekend for Strictly fans, with the launch show airing on Friday, September 23, followed by the first live show on Saturday, September 24.
Fifteen new celebrity contestants – including TV presenter Helen Skelton, singer Fleur East, swimmer Ellie Simmonds and former footballer Tony Adams – will be donning suits and sequinned dresses for the foreseeable future, battling it out to be the next winner of the glitterball trophy.
There’s something so comforting about a long-running show like Strictly. Even though there’s a whole host of new faces hitting the dancefloor, many of us will be looking forward to the safe predictability of our favourite feelgood TV. So, why do long-running series like Strictly feel like such a comfort blanket?
It crosses generations
“First and foremost, it’s been on our screens for a very long time,” says Ngozi Cadmus, mental health and leadership expert (ngozicadmus.com). “So it crosses generational lines – the Gen Zs can get into it, from the millennials to the baby boomers.”
Strictly first hit our screens in 2004, and Cadmus suggests the show always tries to enlist “some relevant celebrities the Gen Zs and the millennials will be interested in, as well as those who are older”.
This means many people look forward to Strictly because it’s an opportunity for the family to come together. “A lot of research shows families no longer sit together and eat together – there are some shows that can at least bring that back,” she says. “Let’s watch the show together and sit and talk about how our day was – I think that’s quite good.”
There’s an element of nostalgia
If you’ve been watching Strictly for years, it might fill you with a sense of nostalgia – and this can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing.
“When people are under quite a lot of stress – maybe globally, or just individually – we naturally seek comfort,” suggests Cadmus. “And what is one of the things that is most comforting? Formative, old TV shows and movies that bring us joy, that remind us of nostalgic periods.
“Naturally when we look back, sometimes you think – oh, life was much easier back in the day – even if it wasn’t. Sometimes when we are comparing our current day, our current stresses and our current circumstances, we tend to look back to the idyllic times when it was not as stressful.”
It’s a form of escapism
Whether it’s Strictly, EastEnders or Love Island, many of us turn to television for a healthy dose of escapism. “It suspends reality for that moment, so you don’t have to think about what’s going on right now for you, or what’s going on in the world,” explains Cadmus.
“For a lot of people, our brains are racing” – and simple TV shows can help put this on pause for a short while. “You’re watching something, I know what’s going to happen, it’s predictable, you don’t have to overanalyse it, it doesn’t raise your anxiety.”
This can bring comfort, and Cadmus says it can allow your brain to “vegetate”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “I think everything in moderation – it can be very therapeutic,” says Cadmus. “Especially when you’re anxious, or you had a really difficult day, or life is all out of sorts. It’s about how long you remain in your escape land – do you not go back to reality?
“For most people, once the TV goes to commercials, you’re back to reality – we’ve got to cook food for the kids, you’ve got to look after your granny, you’ve got to send that last email you forgot to send in the office. There are obviously a few people who get stuck in escapism and neglect their responsibility, but most people are forced to bounce back.”
It gives you a routine
There’s something in the timing too, knowing that at this time each week, there’ll be new episodes to enjoy.
“Researchers say repetition and routines bring forth a certain certainty – we know Love Island is always going to be in the summer, we know Strictly is always going to be this time,” says Cadmus.
“We as human beings – not everyone, but for the vast majority of us – we crave that level of certainty.” So, knowing Strictly is going to be on our screens every week until Christmas could be a balm in tough times.
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